County Board tours bridge sites

by April Scheinoha

    Pennington County commissioners got a visual perspective of the potential spots for a proposed bridge near Sanford Health in Thief River Falls. Commissioners toured the sites Wednesday, Nov. 15.
    The proposed bridge would move traffic west and east between highways 32 and 59. It is currently planned over the Red Lake River from County State Aid Highway 8 (east of Challenger Elementary School) to Mark Boulevard (north of Sanford Health).
    Discussions have also centered on the possibility of building the bridge and road on CSAH 7, which is located south of CSAH 8. CSAH 7 is located closer to the Thief River Falls Regional Airport, which may lead to some issues with Federal Aviation Administration requirements.
    The project is estimated to cost $6 million, which includes the potential construction of roundabouts. If approved, construction is expected to occur in 2020. Construction could possibly start in 2019 if the county were awarded the grants it is seeking for the project.
    Nearby land would have to be purchased in the event either site were chosen. In some cases, that may involve property with houses on-site. Several Mark Boulevard property owners were already considering selling their properties prior to hearing about the plans for a bridge, according to County Engineer Mike Flaagan. He indicated that it’s unknown whether the new road would continue straight from the dead-end of Mark Boulevard, jog slightly north or jog slightly south. Mark Boulevard is already a 10-ton roadway, which would alleviate some of the costs of building the roadway and bridge there.
    If the bridge were constructed on CSAH 7, the roadway would include an “S” curve since the river is located on a diagonal at that point. One mile of CSAH 7 would also have to be built to a 10-ton standard. Flaagan anticipated that CSAH 7 from Highway 59 to CSAH 17 would have to be upgraded to a 10-ton highway as well. He believed the speed limit would be 55 mph if the bridge were constructed along CSAH 7.
    Currently, the bridge is listed in the 2017-21 Road and Bridge Plan, a requirement for the potential project to be eligible for state aid. It was placed in the plan a year ago to start conversations about the project. After county leaders learned about Digi-Key’s expansion plans, the project moved to the forefront of their minds. Even though the bridge is listed in the plan, county commissioners may choose not to move forward.
    Houston Engineering and WSB will complete a draft study soon. That study will include bridge cost, projected traffic data and information from an October public meeting. The firms will then present that information to county staff and the County Board to garner their feedback. A second draft is expected to be completed in mid-January. At that time, a second public meeting will be conducted. It is expected that transportation planners would present data to the public at that time along with their recommendation. All of the above information would then be provided to the County Board in mid-February. At that time, commissioners may consider the project.
    The county hopes to use Minnesota gas tax funding, including CSAH funds and Trunk Highway funds; a Transportation Economic Development Program grant, a Transportation Economic Development Infrastructure Program grant and Local Road Improvement Program funds (state bonding money) to pay for the project.